Navdanya: an initiative to conserve biodiversity

Navdanya: an initiative to conserve biodiversity

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Navdanya means “nine seeds” (symbolizing protection of biological and cultural diversity) and also the “new gift” (for seed as commons, based on the right to save and share seeds In today’s context of biological and ecological destruction, seed savers are the true givers of seed. This gift or “dana” of Navadhanyas (nine seeds) is the ultimate gift – it is a gift of life, of heritage and continuity. Conserving seed is conserving biodiversity, conserving knowledge of the seed and its utilization, conserving culture, conserving sustainability.

Navdanya is a network of seed keepers and organic producers spread across 17 states in India. Navdanya has helped set up 111 community seed banks across the country, trained over 5,00,000 farmers in seed sovereignty, food sovereignty and sustainable agriculture over the past two decades, and helped setup the largest direct marketing, fair trade organic network in the country.

Navdanya has also set up a learning center, Bija Vidyapeeth (School of the Seed / Earth University) on its biodiversity conservation and organic farm in Doon Valley, Uttarakhand, North India.

Navdanya is actively involved in the rejuvenation of indigenous knowledge and culture. It has created awareness on the hazards of genetic engineering, defended people’s knowledge from biopiracy and food rights in the face of globalisation and climate change. Navdanya is a women centred movement for the protection of biological and cultural diversity.

Navdanya launches No to GMO Bananas Campaign

On May Day,2013 Navdanya/Mahila Anna Swaraj/Diverse Women for Diversity/Initiative for Health& Equity in Society/ Guild of Services/ CISSA/Azadi Bachao Andolan/ Appiko/Save Honey Bees Campaign / Gene Ethics, Australia, launched the campaign “No to GMO bananas” and the associated “creation myth” that Bill Gates and James Dale are imposing by claiming their GMO bananas are an “innovation” to save Indian Women from childbirth deaths due to iron deficiency anemia.

At the same time we recognize and celebrate the labour and creativity of nature, of women, of farmers, of our culture by promoting indigenous biodiversity and knowledge as the real solution to hunger and malnutrition.

The issue of GMO bananas are relevant to two new laws being tabled by the Government of India. The first is the BRAI act which is designed to deregulate GMOs and for food and agriculture could be called India’s Monsanto Protection Act. The Biotechnology Department which has signed the GMO banana MOU has drafted BRAI. The Developer is becoming the “regulator”, a clear conflict of interest.

The second law is the Food Security Act, which makes no commitment to production and public procurement of safe, healthy and nutritious food from farmers and communities for a public distribution system, no commitment to promote community gardens and community kitchens, but in a foot note on feeding programmes for the vulnerable, it refers to biofortification, which implies products like GMO bananas. The Rs 1 trillion of public feeding programmes is thus a captive market s for global corporations if adventures like GMO banana are allowed to be undertaken which eclipse local, low cost, participatory biodiversity centred, women centred solutions.

According to the “creation myth” of capitalist patriarchy, rich and powerful men are the “creators”. They can own life through patents and intellectual property. They can tinker with nature’s complex evolution over millennia, and claim their trivial yet destructive acts of gene manipulation “create” life, “create” food, “create” nutrition. In the case of GM bananas it is one rich man, Bill Gates ,financing gone Australian scientist ,Dale, who knows onecrop, the banana ,to impose inefficient and hazardous GM bananas on millions of people in India and Uganda who have grown hundreds of banana varieties over thousands of years in additional to thousands of other crops.

False solutions like genetically engineered bananas are being offered by Bill Gates, who is funding Dr Dale in Queensland University of Technology, Australia, to develop genetically engineered bananas and transfer them to India. In addition our tax money is also funding this project.

India’s Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC) will provide AUD$1.4 million (US$1.44 million) towards the QUT component of the project and INR80 million (US$1.43 million) towards the cost of the Indian component.

Partners for the GM banana project will also include Australia’s National Agri-Food Biotechnology Institute, India’s National Research Centre for Bananas, the Indian Institute of Horticulture Research, the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre and Tamil Nadu Agricultural University.

Dr Dale does not have a single paper related to iron fortification of bananas .This work has been done by the Bhabha Atomic Research Team.

(Gujulla B Sunil Kumar &Lingam Srinivas & Thumballi Ramabhatta Ganapathi

Iron Fortification of Banana by the Expression of Soybean Ferritin

Biol Trace Elem Res (2011) 142:232–241 DOI 10.1007/s12011-010-8754-6)

So the research on GM banana is Indian, the finance comes from India, yet Dr Dale and Bill Gates strut around the world as if their research, their brains and their money is making a Technology transfer of GM bananas possible to India to save Indian Women.

GMO bananas are in any case not a solution to anemia. Bananas are rich in nutrition but have only 0.44mg of iron per 100 grams of edible portion. All the effort to increase iron content of bananas will fall short the iron content of our indigenous biodiversity. According to the BARC scientists, they can achieve a 6 fold increase in iron content in GMO bananas. This makes it 2.6mg, which is 3000% less than iron in turmeric, or niger, or lotus stem, 2000% less than Amchur (mango powder). The safe, biodiverse alternatives are multifold.

The knowledge of growing this diversity and transforming it to food is women’s knowledge. That is why in Navdanya we have created the network for food sovereignty in women’s hands – Mahila Anna Swaraj.

The project is a waste of money, and a waste of time. It will take 10 years and millions of dollars to complete the research. But meantime, governments, research agencies, scientists will become blind to biodiversity based, low cost, safe, time tested , democratic alternatives in the hands of women .The National banana research centre while conserving 200 varieties of bananas, has already put the development of GMO bananas in its Vision Document 2030.

Just as Bt cotton has taken over 95%cotton in India inspite of having failed to increase yields or control pests, GM bananas will take over and destroy our rich biodiversity, even though they will fail to remove iron deficiency.

The real objective is to get access to our rich biodiversity through Biopiracy and control banana production through patents in the country with the highest production and consumption of bananas. Scientists like Dale already hold many patents on banana transformation. Just as Monsanto controls our cotton seed supply through IPRs by adding a toxic gene to cotton, Dale and MNC’s will start owning our banana through patents linked to genetic engineering. In fact that seems to be the main aim of the GMO banana project.

There is no need for introducing genetically engineered banana, which is a sacred plant and sacred food in India, when banana brings us many health benefits and we have so many affordable, accessible, safe and diverse options for meeting our nutritional needs of iron.

We have to grow nutrition by growing biodiversity, not industrially “fortify” nutritionally empty food at high cost, or put one or two nutrients into genetically engineered crops.

As the Navdanya report Health per Acre shows when an acre of farmland is used for organic mixed cropping in place of conventional mono cropping, 39 g of extra iron is produced. This amount is sufficient to nourish 16,250 lactating mothers with iron for a day. On a national scale, the extra amount of iron produced organically would be sufficient to meet the requirement of 20 billion hypothetical lactating mothers. Even if only part of this iron is absorbed, biodiversity offers us the potential of ending iron deficiency anemia. There need be no iron deficiency if we intensify biodiversity in our farms and gardens and food.

We don’t need irresponsible and wasteful experiments like GMO bananas, imposed by powerful men in distant places, who are totally ignorant of the biodiversity in our fields and thalis, and who never bear the consequences of their destructive power by creating new threats to our biodiversity, our seed sovereignty, knowledge sovereignty, and our health, We need to put food security in women’s hands so that the last woman and the last child can share in nature’s gifts of biodiversity.

The solution to malnutrition lies in growing nutrition, and growing nutrition means growing biodiversity, it means recognizing the knowledge of biodiversity and nutrition among millions of Indian women who have received it over generations as “Grandmothers Knowledge”. For removing iron deficiency, iron rich plants should be grown every where, on farms, in kitchen gardens, in community gardens, in school gardens, on roof tops, in balconies….Iron deficiency was not created by Nature. And we can get rid of it by becoming co-creators and co-producers with Nature.

For Further information

Navdanya report “No to GMO bananas”

Petition to stop GMO bananas

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About the author

Kanchan co-founded the NGI platform and portal in 2008. Kanchan is a prominent NRI living in Boston, USA for over 3 decades. His interests include History, Neurology, Yoga, Politics and Future of mankind. His top hobbies are travelling, cooking and writing. Email:

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